Saturday, September 15, 2012
For the record, this piece isn’t meant to be the least bit funny or clever.
I haven’t seen the pictures of Kate Middleton sunbathing. Probably never will. I’ve always assumed she had breasts, although, to be honest, even though I like breasts on women as much as the next guy, I’ve never thought about her in quite that way. In any case, they’re her breasts. Ms. Middleton and her husband seem like good people. Their high-profile lives notwithstanding, I think they have a right to their privacy – as do all the starlets and other notables the paparazzi have chased, embarrassed and otherwise annoyed to those celebrities’ detriment.
Five years ago, I offered a very simple suggestion for solving the paparazzi problem once and for all. Here’s what I said, updated only slightly, on Saturday, October 6, 2007:
“There’s a simple solution to the paparazzi problem. All Congress has to do is pass a law giving qualified, registered celebrities ownership of all pictures taken of them. The effect of the law would be to prevent publication of those photos or videos without their permission. Without the ability to sell their services, without celebrity permission, that will be that for the paparazzi business. Celebrities can always choose to permit the use of material they consider acceptable on selected print and electronic media.”
It only seems fair that other people, whether they be creepy photographers with very long telephoto lenses hiding in the bushes or the publishers of the media that run the pictures and profit from showing them, whoever these peeping Toms, they shouldn’t be allowed to profit from someone else’s image without her or his permission.
It’s already legally unacceptable to use a living or deceased person’s image for an unauthorized endorsement. The new law I propose is just a generalization and formal codification of the same concept, that you can’t profit from the use of a celebrity’s (or ordinary person’s?) image without prior written permission.
The federal government could maintain the directory of registered celebrities. “Permission denied” would be the default rule in the absence of an authorized signature on a standard approval form that would list specific uses for which permission is sought, and to which a copy of the image would be attached.
To reduce administrative overhead, celebrities could pre-approve unrestricted use for certain categories of pictures and videos – such as red carpet events and promotional appearances – while retaining control over images of their personal lives.
Penalties would be a multiple of personal income and corporate revenues – revenues, not profits – earned from the unauthorized use of images, plus the estimated value of damages to celebrity potential earnings and peace of mind.
Offending parties would be whoever used an unauthorized image, from unaffiliated bloggers to Fortune 500 network media, regardless of how the images were obtained.
If all this seems severe, it’s intentionally so. It’s my objective to shut down the practice of invading people’s privacy and exploiting private images for personal and corporate gain at the expense of the subject. We live in an age when everyone has a camera from which pictures, even HD video, can be instantly broadcast around the world to literally billions of potential viewers. It’s time we took back our lives. To that end, the law I’m proposing would be an important part of that process.
Over the top? Not really. Ask yourself that question the next time someone posts a picture of you sunbathing in the fenced-in privacy of your backyard, or caught in an unguarded moment coming out of the shower having forgotten to close the blinds. This article is, of course, only about protecting celebrities from paparazzi, but it helps sometimes to put ourselves in their position to realize how these celebrities must feel. Technology has changed the very definition of privacy. It’s no longer about whether or not anyone saw this or that, but how many millions of hits the video got on YouTube. We are all no more than a stranger’s touch screen away from exposing ourselves. However wonderful the technology, it has enabled the bully, voyeur and creep in all of us. Its reckless use is rapidly getting, if it isn’t already out of control.
Once again, while Kate Middleton’s breasts are breaking news, I’m putting my suggestion on the table. With luck, an intellectual property attorney or maybe a Congressman/woman or Senator will read this and suggest language for simple, but nonetheless effective legislation – before some celebrity princess (with a small “p”) in this country suffers the same fate as that other Princess, 15 years ago.
Sooner or later, we get it right. Maybe Kate’s breasts can accomplish what her mother-in-law’s unfortunate death didn’t.